Understanding the Distribution of Microcystin in Western Lake Erie's Food Web

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The Ohio State University

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Human-driven environmental change has caused harmful algal blooms dominated by cyanobacteria (cyanoblooms) to increase in coastal ecosystems worldwide. These blooms have been threatening the biota of aquatic ecosystems by increasing hypoxic zones, reducing water clarity, and increasing exposure to cyanotoxins. One toxin, microcystin (MC), is especially pervasive in freshwater ecosystems and can accumulate in the soft tissues of organisms. However, our understanding of how MC moves through the food web remains incomplete in most ecosystems. To this end, I quantified MC levels in several common fish species and their prey inside and outside cyanoblooms in western Lake Erie, which has been experiencing a resurgence of cyanoblooms during recent decades owing to non-point source nutrient pollution and climate change. As hypothesized, I found that MC levels were higher in water, zooplankton, and several prey fishes captured inside of cyanoblooms than outside. Similarly, MC was only detected in top predators living inside cyanoblooms. Given that MC is a toxin to both fish and zooplankton, this begs the question of why organisms live in toxic cyanoblooms. In addition to discussing this question, I discuss the value of this research to agencies charged with managing Lake Erie's fisheries and the consumption of fish during the cyanobloom season.



Microcystin, Lake Erie, Food web, Harmful Algal Blooms, Trophic Transfer, CSMI, Microcystis